At present Britons living abroad and EU citizens in the UK are pawns on a political chessboard.
Their status remains unclear – and both sides are blaming the other for the impasse.
When the Bill to trigger Article 50 was being voted on in the House of Commons Labour’s Harriet Harman attached an amendment in a bid to ensure the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK. A predicted Tory rebellion was quelled when Home Secretary Amber Rudd sent a memo assuring colleagues ‘nothing would change‘ for EU citizens. However, in a recent interview the home secretary stated that the current right to travel and work in different EU countries will not remain when Britain leaves the EU. ‘We will be ending freedom of movement as we know it,’ she said.
Theresa May has also blamed EU leaders for the hold-up.
The reason the Government does not want to be clearer is that the rights of the more than three million EU citizens in the UK is – in bargaining terms – linked to the rights of Brits abroad. When negotiations begin this may be a tool to get a better deal.
In all likelihood British expats and EU citizens here will be allowed to stay unrestricted. It seems unlikely that the Spanish coastal towns so beloved by retired Britons desperate for some sun or the French villages packed with second-homers that keep the boulangeries and patisseries in business will want to kick anyone out. And the impact of losing more than three million people to the British economy – both in terms of tax and wages spent at British tills – would be devastating.
Experts believe that the vast majority of EU nationals will be allowed to stay – 71% have lived here for longer than five years which grants them that right no matter what happens during negotiations. However, rules on whether family members can join them, for example, remain unclear.
Therefore a reciprocal agreement is likely for Britons abroad – but how long will the uncertainty last and what impact will that uncertainty have on potential moves in the meantime whether they are for work or leisure?
Words: Richard Porritt